Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the San Diego City Council chambers. Photo by Chris Stone

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his aides met with SoccerCity investors 25 times between January 2016 and this past February, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday.

Critics told the newspaper that the meetings show “a less-than-transparent process” as the city evaluates a proposal to redevelop the city-owned Qualcomm Stadium into a venue that could be home to professional soccer, the San Diego State football program and other events, along with commercial, office and residential structures around it.

Although there was no suggestion that the meetings were illegal, they were criticized. City Councilman David Alvarez told the U-T that the “secret meetings and backroom deals made bad public policy.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor told the U-T that the meetings were routine due diligence efforts regarding the future of Qualcomm Stadium.

Jen Lebron, a mayoral press secretary, said SoccerCity promoter FS Investors approached the city with the concept. She added Faulconer has collected public input on what to do with the stadium property for two years, and along with staff members has met with other interested developers, the Union-Tribune reported.

Documents released by the Mayor’s Office show that Faulconer and chief of staff Stephen Puetz met with the SoccerCity proponents, and officials from the then-San Diego Chargers on 22 occasions, the Union-Tribune reported. Eight of those included representatives from San Diego State University and Major League Soccer.

According to the Union-Tribune, an additional three meetings were solely with SoccerCity officials.

“From a big-picture perspective, since 2015, we have been soliciting input from the public as part of the Mission Valley Community Plan Update process,” Lebron told the Union-Tribune.

The meetings weren’t “just discussions about a potential development plan,” Lebron added, but also “about bringing a new professional sports franchise to San Diego.”

According to the Union-Tribune, records show the mayor met with rival developers Sudberry Properties and H.G. Fenton in February, after FS Investors introduced its SoccerCity concept.

One critic said the city should have informed the public about the meetings, and any future stadium plans should be openly debated.

“The process seems like it has been geared to the SoccerCity folks right from the beginning” said William Sannwald, a San Diego State University management professor and former assistant San Diego city manager, in an interview with the Union-Tribune.

“The thing that bothers me is there are probably other developers out there who would like to have an opportunity to suggest a plan for the site,” Sannwald said.

Proposed for the Qualcomm Stadium site in eastern Mission Valley, the $1 billion SoccerCity project was introduced in January, two weeks after the Chargers organization announced they were moving the football team to Los Angeles.

Since then, the project has grown into a $4 billion redevelopment that includes the sports venue and other amenities, the Union-Tribune reported.

The Union-Tribune requested records of all meetings and communications between the Mayor’s Office and FS Investors or other stakeholders in the Qualcomm Stadium debate, including San Diego State, which is seeking a venue for future Aztecs football games.

Last week, the Mayor’s Office provided a timeline of all meetings and communications between Faulconer and his staff and FS Investors, San Diego State, Chargers team officials and other developers between January 2016 and late February 2017, according to the Union-Tribune.

The Mayor’s Office did not specify what was discussed, and did not provide any of the email communications or other correspondence that the Union-Tribune requested, according to the article.

— City News Service